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Page County drug treatment court to launch with boost from JMU professors, grad students

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JMU political science professor Amanda Teye has dedicated two years to launching a new jail diversion program in Page County.

Drug treatment courts have operated in Virginia since 1995. Since 2004, when the General Assembly passed the Drug Treatment Court Act, they have come under the supervision of the Virginia Supreme Court.

The approach is an increasingly popular alternative to jailing non-violent drug offenders, the goal being to change the pattern for many offenders.

Teye, who teaches in the JMU master of public administration program and undergraduate public policy and administration major, has worked on the effort in Page County alongside political science professor Lili Peaslee and several JMU graduate students.

Teye wrote a highly competitive $500,000 Bureau of Justice Assistance grant on behalf of the county that will fund the court for its first three years and has provided other technical support and assistance, including co-authoring a new Virginia State Supreme Court Docket with local public defender Tim Coyne.

“Writing the grant was one thing,” Teye said. “But the work that we do on the other end of that is much more expansive, and that is building the partnerships, getting the yeses, being on the ground, having the meetings, working through issues.”

Having a drug treatment court requires collaboration between probation, law enforcement, the Commonwealth attorney, service providers and the judge.

In Page County, judicial oversight will be provided by Circuit Court Judge Clark Ritchie.

Offenders who qualify for the jail diversion program have to agree to complete five phases of substance use treatment and supervision during their probation, all of which requires various levels of community coordination and frequent drug testing.

“The work of Dr. Teye, Dr. Peaslee and the graduate students at JMU was outstanding,” Coyne said. “Dr. Teye’s work enabled us to obtain a very competitive federal grant and made it possible to implement this vitally important program in our criminal justice system. It is my hope that this program will break the disease of addiction for drug court participants, transform their lives and make them productive members of the community.”

“The disease of addiction is something the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office deals with on a daily basis,” Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney Kenneth Alger said. “The implementation of a drug court for Page County means hope for long term success for defendants and not merely a revolving door of incarceration, thus creating a more successful and healthy community. Dr. Teye’s contributions to the creation of our drug court was invaluable. Without her extensive knowledge and leadership, we would still be in the planning phases.”

Among many things, grant funding includes the salary of a case manager, which will be staffed through the Northwestern Community Service Board, a full-time drug court coordinator, drug testing, part-time law enforcement support, four residential beds a year in a treatment facility, and team training.

After the court’s first three years, Teye hopes there is enough support that the program will get long-term local funding.

“In grant writing, we always set a goal to prove our program worthy of public support,” Teye said. “Projects like this, once they get up and rolling, build momentum to sustain themselves through demonstration of positive outcomes and overall efficiency.”

Teye said the cost of keeping someone in jail ranges from $55 to $90 a day, up to about $32,850 a year, excluding additional costs for those with mental illness or co-occurring disorders.

“Generally speaking, the first two participants can pay for the drug court coordinator and then some,” she said. “The third and fourth pay for your case manager and supervision costs. On top of that, you’re just saving money.”

“Some of it relies on money, but some of it is also reliant on relationships,” Peaslee said. “A lot of what we do is bring people together to develop the relationships so they can figure out how they can work together that may not require a lot of money.”

Teye said Page County’s presiding judge, public defender, sheriff and commonwealth’s attorney are so open and willing because they’ve seen generation after generation come through the court system with substance abuse issues.

“It has been extremely rewarding to work with these dedicated public servants, excited about change in the community,” she said.

Teye also credited the political science department for supporting her work, which she and Dr. Peaslee also use in their teaching.

“Our students helped do some really foundational research on needs in Page County for this grant application,” Teye said. “They get lots of applied experience that helps them out after graduation, writing grants, implementing grants, assessing grants, and managing public programs.”

On one project, a student even stepped in as the drug court coordinator for two months while there was a vacancy.

augusta free press
augusta free press